Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Obsidian Depression

The Obsidian ObseDepression

Photo Credit: Ant Harris ( http://antsclimbingspace.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/bare-rock-at-fingalnorthern-tasmania.html )

Long term readers will know of my prolonged battle with a route I bolted in March 2015 at Bare Rock, dubbed the Obsidian Obsession Project.

Located on the top tier in the center of Bare Rock (off the "Orange Crush" ledge) in a rap-in, climb-out area, Obsidian Obsession climbs a beautiful bullet-hard black streak of dolerite, featuring sustained climbing on small, slippery, slopey blocky holds that demand intricate footwork and precise body-positions to make usable. The soaring position atop the Great Naked Rock leaves you with 150m of air below your feet, and the company of the local Peregrine Falcons (and Wedge-Tailed Eagles) to cheer you on in your many, many, oh so many red-point attempts.

Gerry Narkowicz's current Topo to the sport-climbs on the middle section of Bare Rock.
Obsidian Obsession follows the blue line in the upper-left corner of the photo.
Crux: Moves 1 & 2 (match this small, slippery, down-turned crimp).

The climb starts with a 10m section of Grade 26 climbing, very slightly overhanging, but extremely technical and precise, with sustained open-handed sidepulls, and increasing intensity all the way to the point where the crux section begins.

Crux: Move 3 (a big span to gain this
small, sharp sidepull).

With no rest from the opening section, the crux is 6-moves that form a V6+ boulder problem, where every move is harder and requires more precision than the last. Upon sticking the crux you reach a "token shake-out" hold (which also happens to be the only "okay" hold on the route), then blast into a bizarre V3 sequence featuring a "fall" onto an open-handed gaston, and a stand-up using an undercling crimp that is initially located above your head.

Crux: Move 4 (fall onto this
hideous sloper-sidepull).

Next is a tolerable sloper to shake and clip, then the upper V4 crux: a few small slippery edges, place your left foot at the same height as your hands, and rock-over to glory. Right at tipping point you snag a -literally- fingernail-sized edge, and complete the rock-over to a 1-pad edge that I can just creep my fingers onto at full stretch. Now all that remains is some grade 22 thinness, a megajug, and a final grade 22 crimp-ladder through a roof bulge. By the end of my time on the Project this year, I estimated the route at grade 29, using my experience and the other routes at Bare Rock as the benchmark.

Crux: Move 5 (my Nemesis!
From a huge throw, catch one of the
worst holds I've ever held in climbing,
build up your feet, and launch to a good hold.)

For me, ticking this thing would be a huge step forward in my climbing, and considering the mini-epic just to access and descend from the route (never mind climbing it), it would prove to be a big step forward in my patience as well.

The abseil to gain the "Orange Crush" belay Ledge. Obsidian Obsession climbs the black streak
directly above where I am in the photo.

A photo of me working the route on Top Rope Solo back in
March 2015.
I had 11 laps on it back in 2015, and made some progress but was completely shut-down by the main crux (and found the upper crux to be touch-and-go, even off a prolonged rest). This year, despite a brief lap on it while climbing a multipitch that goes the length of the face at Bare Rock (Black Fire, 4-Pitch 25) with Carlos in December, I committed myself to the true long-term siege in mid-January.

Initially, the route felt impossible, and early-on while Top-Rope-Soloing it into submission, I expressed my doubts that I could ever tick it. But as time went by I started to make breakthroughs. I dialled the opening section, perfected the V3 section (to a point that I never fell off it again in all my subsequent attempts), and sorted out some new, final beta for the V4 upper crux. The route was achieving a degree of perfection, but I was still struggling to get any linkage on the crux boulder even in isolation, never mind as a part of the full route. My lack of progress was starting to wear me down, and a massive flood in February coated much of Bare Rock (including my route) in a film of mud that required a complete rescrubbing of every square metre of rock. 

Looking down the line of The Obsidian
Obsession, back in March 2015.

This was very nearly the straw that broke the wayward climbers' back, but great encouragement from Ingvar Lidman, Garry Phillips, Gerry Narkowicz and Isaac Lethborg kept me on the siege warfare path. I scrubbed the entire route with the dustpan broom from my van, and fine-tuned it with my bouldering brush. Over time I got the route more dialed, and started dragging belayers up to the ledge so I could jump on the sharp-end in the hope that being on Lead would give me the extra boost to push through for the Send. But I was still being slaughtered by the crux on link despite being able to do the opening gr26 section 3x clean back-to-back consecutively for training. The intermittently spoogy, wet or roasting hot weather did little to help the situation. By the end of March, with 32 laps on the route since the start of the year, I was completely over it, and had -essentially- given up any hope of climbing it.

The final (desperate) moves of the opening gr26 section of
Obsidian Obsession.
I went and climbed other things around Tassie, bolted new routes at Bare Rock, and had a blast (as you probably know, if you've been reading my previous blog entries). Eventually, in June, I ended up back on Orange Crush Ledge to belay Garry Phillips on a route he'd bolted there- the direct version of my route: Amber Allure (35m 25). Garry's route ended up going at gr27, but while I was up there I jumped back on the sharp end, and -impossibly- made a breakthrough for the first time in about 4 months: I was able to consistently and reliably do the last 2 moves of the Crux boulder (which I was previously getting through 1 in 10 attempts, even in isolation).

Latching move 5 of the crux.
The race was back on to do the First Ascent. With Ingvar Lidman back in the state (and having bolted a new route near Obsidian Obsession to justify hanging out with me on the ledge day-after-day), the last of my Tassie Objectives completed in the recent months (including doing the First Repeat of Barbarella! (27), establishing a tough sustained linkup of Barbarella into Velvet Morning via 4 new bolts and 8m of new climbing (Queen of the Galaxy (26/27)) and ticking No Space in Time (28), I was able to throw myself at it wholeheartedly. Another breakthrough soon after (using a revised, but hard-to-see footer) meant that every shot was now a potential Send, and I was back to dieting, having rest-days, strategic warmups and targeted training. My whole life revolved around this route once again.

Building up to the last pounce-move of the 6-move crux
I was getting close: falling off going for the last move of the crux on link. I was getting frustrated, feeling optimistic, dreaming about the moves, discussing them ad nauseam with anyone who would listen... but still it escaped me. The walk up to the top of the cliff takes about 45min, after this there is a 70m abseil to get to the start of the route (with several points of short-fixing to avoid the rope running over sharp edges). The route is in the sun for most of the day, making either really early or really late sessions the key for ideal conditions. To escape at the end of the day, you either do 5 abseils back to the ground, or jumaar back up 70m of fixed ropes and walk back down the hill. It was a huge investment in time and energy, and I was beginning to hate every aspect of it.

Mid-way through the weird V4 upper crux.
At this time I was reading Andy Pollitt's book "Punk in the Gym", in which he talks about his protracted siege on Punks in the Gym starting to feel like a "day job". He'd punch his metaphorical punch-card at the start of the work day, destroy himself falling off the route, clock off for the day and go drink beer. Weekends were for having fun climbing elsewhere. I could see this in my own experiences, and as time went by I was no longer having any fun. My fuse was getting shorter, and I was snapping at friends for tiny mistakes in their belaying (on this route and on others). I could now climb the opening gr26 section 5 x clean back-to-back consecutively with 5kgs of weight on my harness, so I was reaching the crux feeling pretty damn fresh on my link attempts...

But I just couldn't Send it!

Almost latching the final move of the crux... again.
Finally, one day, I reached my limit. I was starting to go backwards in my efforts, falling off before I had actually fallen off (because I'd become so used to falling, I had become well-practiced at falling in the same spot... I was training to fail), and was just over it. On 29th June 2016, after one particularly pathetic fall on the early stages of the crux, I made the spur of the moment call to dog my way to the anchors, take my quickdraws off the route, and -for the first time in 7 months- remove my fixed ropes from the top of the cliff. At that moment, it was officially over for the season. That day I booked my boat back to the mainland, and resigned myself to abject failure. I had been defeated utterly... again.

Despite belaying Ingvar for several days after this on his new route, I was never tempted to re-equip Obsidian Obsession and have another crack at it... I was done.

The line of the "Rise of the
Masked Lapwing" Project.

Before I left Tasmania I pieced together and equipped a new route on the stunning headwall above The Great Roof, tackling the most outrageous exposed and steep terrain on Bare Rock, on the most perfect rock hereabouts, and with some of the most stunning climbing. Named the "Rise of the Masked Lapwing" Project (after an in-joke in my family), it is a contender for one of the best pitches of climbing in Northern Tasmania, and though I didn't have time left to score the First Ascent, it will be the catalyst to psyche me to return to my Second Home sometime in the future.

I caught the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne on the 7th July. And thus ended my sojourn in the far south after 8 months. Make no mistake, though I was disappointed and disheartened at my failure, I was still sad to leave Tassie. I love the climbing there, and the environment is the very definition of "inspiring". I've enjoyed being a part of the local climbing scene, and also salivating over (and tapping into) the new routing potential. It's been a rad journey, and I want to say a big thanks to all the Taswegians who were a part of it.

Isaac Lethborg at the Boneyard
for yet another day of red-pointing
in the sun.
Gerry Narkowicz prepares to bolt a new "Bridgemaster Zero"
15-star Megaclassic at the new Tassie "Mega crag" of
North Sister.

Ingvar Lidman and myself on the Orange Crush/Obsidian Obsession
ledge (agaaaaaain) on yet another bitter winter day.
Andrew Martin repeats Yesterday's Hero (21) at Bare Rock.
Thanks for all the beers, Andy!!!

Garry Phillips working on his
latest Boneyard MegaProject.

I made a short film about my efforts on this route, entitled "Dealing with Failure: The Obsidian Obsession" which has been well received so far. Thanks to Neil Monteith for his "Executive Producer" efforts, and Crazy John Fisher for letting me use some stock footage from his short film: "Climbing Paschendale - Trench Warfare".


What Comes Next?

Looking across Taipan Wall...
Any questions?
On returning to the mainland, I made my way back to The Grampians. Being the middle of Winter, there weren't many people around to climb with (though there were approximately 100,000,000 boulders), but at this point in time I didn't really want to climb with anyone. I wanted to do some Free Soloing, some Top Rope Soloing, and a little bit of Lead Roped Soling, and use the time to decide what comes next in this climbing journey of mine.

Inevitably, that meant I went to Taipan wall.

I spent 4 days working Serpentine (29), which -though it didn't blow my mind initially- grew on me over time as I pieced it together and it began to flow. By the end I was thoroughly enjoying every lap on the route, though disappointingly I never managed to do better than 2 falls over its length (on each of the crimp-boulder cruxes) due to my lack of Blueys-style crimp-boulder fitness after so much time in Tassie. I know now, however, that this is a route for me to come back to in the near-future.


Looking down at my chalk and
tick-marks on Daedalus (28R).

I spent 2 days piecing together the free version of Daedalus (28R) which features a V6 slab boulder start that took me almost an entire session to do as a complete sequence, and an amazing (and rather runout) upper section that is a total sandbag at the original grade of 26M1, but utterly spectacular in its entirety.

Another day was split between Sirocco Pitch 2 (26), and Father Oblivion (26), both of which are great routes (but Father O is the far superior route of the 2,and nowhere near as cruxy), and another day on various smaller routes in the vicinity (including a repeat of Neil Monteith's Divided Years (25), a rap-in, climb-out route on the upper section of Taipan Wall).

I spent a day climbing Venom (28) with fellow New South Welshman Dave Hoyle (who went on to crush it on his Second lap), and did a few days of climbing with Kent Paterson at Van Dieman's Land and Muline (attempting Eye of the Tiger (29) and Path of Yin (30)).

In between free-soloing easy multipitches at Arapiles, I also climbed The 7th Pillar (22M1 - Aiding only a single move on the 2nd pitch, and the manky bolt ladder on the 1st pitch, having already done the variant First Pitch (free at 22/23R) last year) with former Blue Mountaineer and current Natimuk resident: Scotty Wearin. Other than a memorable moderate-grade multipitch romp up the guts of Taipan Wall, I went into The 7th Pillar with no expectation, and was pleasantly surprised. Every pitch is of very high quality, with ludicrous amounts of steep exposure at the grade, perfect rock, and challenging and varied climbing all the way to the classy beached-whale-mantle at the tippy top of the great wall. Definitely recommended, especially in its "almost free" form (aiding off just a single bolt, if you climb it via the Left Hand Variant 1st pitch).

Hanging out with Scotty Wearin on the belay
at the start of the 3rd Pitch on The 7th Pillar.
Eventually, though, I knew that the time would come to return to the real world And so it was that randomly on one arctic winter morning, while hiding from the rain beneath Eureka Wall and trying to psyche myself up for a lap on Pavlov's Dog (29), I decided that I'd had enough, and I went home.

Since being home I've had a few good days of climbing, it's been great to catch up with my climbing friends, and to see the evolution of the Woody/Climbing Training Environment (located in my back shed) during my absence (and the simultaneous evolution of those who have come to train there regularly). The beauty and scale of the Blue Mountains is always inspiring, and I'm actually looking forward to finding a job and going back to work (after almost 2 years as a professional climbing bumb(bly))...

But since I've been back there have been overwhelming challenges as well, not the least of which has been trying to decide what it is that I want from my climbing, and trying to understand why it is that I climb so obsessively at all. For the most part, I've been climbing relatively badly since I've been back. I've been feeling demotivated, flat, worn-out and easily frustrated. I've been feeling weak and directionless. On both rock and in the few times I've attempted to train in the ShredShed™ it's become rapidly apparent that my physical skillset has decreased due to not having climbed anything particularly powerful, bouldery or burly (in Yosemite, Tasmania and The Grampians, most hard moves can be solved with good footwork or some technical trickery), which -in itself- probably goes to explain why I wasn't able to step up to the plate and tick The Obsidian Obsession: I needed the sort of power and boulder-strength that I just couldn't build in Tasmania without specific training.

Or maybe I'm just looking for excuses.

Ben Jenga working the moves of Conehead and the
Barbituates (28)
at Nowra. Aesthetically beautiful rock
and climbing... Who would've thought such things
could be found at Nowra?
My inability to succeed at the primary goal of my trip to Tasmania has been a hard blow to my ego and my confidence, especially as it's not really that hard (by comparison), and the likely knowledge that I won't get another solid block of time to climb in Tasmania in the conceivable future means that the odds of me ever ticking The Obsidian Obsession are smaller than ever. Though I succeeded at most of my Tassie Objectives, and had a bloody good time during my sojourn, I cannot overlook the fact that I failed at what I'd really set out to do, and expended a huge amount of time to walk away empty-handed.

The same soul-crushing, ego-deflating sense of failure has overwhelmed me when I've been climbing back here in New South Wales, as I feel weak as a kitten on a worrying number of routes (which I would've been solid on once-upon-a-time), and my efforts to train in the ShredShed™ have been downright pathetic. I've never been a "gun" climber, but Tassie climbing -for the most part- played to all my strengths, and in doing so has now gone on to highlight how truly weak I am (or have become) in other areas.

To some small, amateurish extent, I can understand how exceptional climbers like Kim Carrigan, Andy Pollitt, Ben Moon and numerous less well-known local climbers (and even friends of mine) have destroyed themselves trying a specific route. Whereby the endless cycle of failure slowly withers away psyche and confidence until the very reason they fell in love with climbing seems incomprehensible. I'm asking those questions now, and trying to find my own solutions before my depleting motivation pushes me away from obsessive climbing.

But it's not all Dark Clouds on the horizon. I've got the perfect training environment. I've got the time to train. I've got a super-psyched crew of local climbers who are ever-enthusiastic and are crushing locally. And I've always got my passion for climbing obscurity to temper the egoistic pursuit of "harder climbing. There is tonnes of climbing-related activities to pursue, and I think that getting a job and having some time to rest, rebuild the psyche, and recover from some prolonged injuries I'm enduring will ultimately be a good thing for my future climbing endeavours.

In the meantime, I'm just looking for the proverbial silver lining among all these perceived clouds.

The "new and improved" ShredShed™ v3.0, located in my back shed.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Bungonia and Bare Rock: Agony and Ecstasy.

Yes, I'm still down here in Tasmania, yet with one major difference:

Winter is Coming!

Snow on Ben Lomond, taken from Ingvar's house.

The unfortunate side-effects of enduring a Tasmanian
Gone are the days of balmy climbing sessions until 9pm at night, and cuddling up to icy stubbies of Boags Draught to stave off Heat Stroke. Now it's a case of "pitch black by 5pm" and "retreating to my sleeping bag wearing all the clothing I posses by 6pm." Ice cold beer is replaced by Red Wine and Stout, and the volume of climbers passing through Bare Rock has diminished to an almost insignificant number. It's become quite the lonely existence...

Yet still I persevere. Dedicated? Determined? Ambitious? Audacious? More likely just: stubborn to the point of stupidity.

Seriously though, it's pretty fucking miserable to be living in a van at this time of year, and the climbing conditions are varying rapidly from utterly terrible, to amazingly spectacular (almost as quickly as the weather is turning).

However, every professional climbing bum(bly) needs a vacation (from their vacation), hence a brief trip back to the Mainland to tackle:

Air Malta

A very rough topo of where the route Air Malta (25) goes up the
South Wall of Bungonia Gorge.
Partway through April, I traveled back to the Mainland for a surprise Birthday Gathering for my buddy Ben Jenga, and used the opportunity to team up with the intrepid rapid hamster (otherwise known as Neil Monteith) to tackle a few of the new routes that had been established in Bungonia recently. As I've mentioned in previous updates, if the routes at Bungonia aren't climbed regularly enough, a layer of fine silt (from the nearby quarry) forms over the holds, and renders many of the routes almost unclimbable. Consequently the key is to get on routes based on the following criteria:
  • As soon as they are established.
  • Immediately after they've had a "clean" by extremely motivated locals.
  • After (or during) an influx of ascents by other climbers.

In short... The key to a great weekend at Bungonia (for the average "out-of-towner") is -essentially- to have other climbers do all the hard work for you. Hooray for egoism!

"Whyyyyyyy???" - Cursing the Weather Gods
as they ruin yet another day of climbing at
The goal of our two days was to do Air Malta (240m 6-pitch Sport 25) on Day 1, and either Jump Master (205m 6-pitch Trad 26 - via the new Direct Start), or The Bridge to Total Freedom (250m 7-pitch Mixed 26), on Day 2, depending on how motivated/demotivated we were after Day 1. Psyche was high, yet despite a great forecast, Bungonia immediately showed its true colours by bucketing down the night (and morning) before our 1st climb. Ever optimistic, Neil Monteith started up Pitch 1 (a grade 23 Limestone slab) in the rain, and managed a grand total of 3 bolts before backing off.

Instead, the day was filled with climbing whatever single-pitch routes were dry-ish. Psyche was now low (*I* pretty much spent the day complaining about how it always rains in Bungonia) as we jumped on Pitch 1 of Jealous Mistress (P1 was gr23, the whole climb is gr28), which turned out to be somewhat dirty, in desperate need of a rebolt, and featuring a bit friable rock (due to lack of  traffic), yet generally good (slightly bold) climbing... up to the point where the crucial hanger protecting the exciting traverse left had fallen off. After a few exhilarating swinging falls, we stripped the route and bailed.

Next was Pitch 1 of Dark Side of the Loon (P1 is gr25), a climb that I'd heard good things about, but started with badly bolted, dirty, chossy crap for a few metres... before revealing itself to be an amazingly improbable roof-traverse and powerful steep headwall on great rock, which almost made me forget about how utterly hideous the first 7m of the climb was. ALMOST.

Neil Monteith approaching the crux of Pitch 1 (23) of Air Malta.
Most of the multipitches on the South Wall of Bungonia Gorge begin like this.
Neil then ticked Sarah Fieg's Route (20m 24), and I managed to break off a mega-jug just below the anchors on my retro-flash, and consequently punted the route. Yay! We did a few repeats of the newer single pitch sport routes as well, before retiring to drink Goon-Bag wine, and enjoy a chance encounter Duncan Hunter (who was the main developer of Air Malta) at the Bungonia Campsite Kitchen .

Spot the climbers! Duncan Hunter and partner beginning up the rarely
repeated: Masters of the Universe (26) on the North Wall.
The next day looked more promising, and we started up Air Malta at about 9am, with Neil passing his previous highpoint (3-bolts up) rapidly (and without the shaking, cursing, and road-runner-ing on the wet limestone slab). The pitch itself is pleasant, though unremarkable Bungonia slabbing, but features a heinous gr23 boulder-problem crux just before the anchors, which essentially comes to define the pitch. The move itself -powerful throws around an awkward bulge, with minimal feet or handholds- probably is only gr23 with the beta, but it took Neil quite a few awkward falls before figuring it out, and it was only through acting as a marionette to Monty's move-for-move beta that I managed to stick the pitch clean on 2nd. I seriously doubt I would've onsighted it.

Pitch 2 (gr21) consisted of some more slabbing, culminating in a section of steep (and somewhat friable) headwall to the anchors, which we both managed to climb clean. Pitch 3 (60m gr22) had a bouldery start off the belay, leading to a loooooong section of enjoyable sub-20 slabbing, and a rather committing downclimb-traverse finale which would've been exciting for Neil with the amount of rope in the system, and was equally exciting for me on 2nd as I unclipped the last draw and eyed off the prospective swinging-fall onto the belay. Again, not a mind-blowing pitch, but with enjoyable enough climbing, which could possibly be improved (in Neil and My shared opinions) by adding an interim belay to mitigate rope-drag, and the finale fall-factor).

Alex Ling negotiating the tricky final
traverse on Pitch 3.
Looking up the end of Pitch 3 (22), with Neil on
belay, and the stunning Pitch 4 waiting above.

The reality, though, is that all the pitches TO Pitch 4 (25m 25) and after it, are essentially access pitches for this one mega-classic pitch. That's not to say that there was anything unenjoyable, bad or offensive in the 5-pitches on either side of Pitch 4, but rather that the climbing on P4 is so ludicrously spectacular that it devalues the other pitches by contrast alone.

And it was all mine!

Looking down at Neil and the Ling Brothers from the belay at the end of
Pitch 4 (25) - An absolute classic!
Pitch 4 tackles the band of Brown, Orange, Red and White steep (and blocky) limestone that runs the length of the South Wall of Bungonia Gorge. It begins with a funky thin (and slippery) slab, before bursting into outrageous steep terrain with over 100m exposure below you. The lower half of the pitch is the steepest, with enormous sloper jugs, unlikely body positions and crucial knee-bars being the defining characteristics. The first half ends with committing steep moves to gain the top of a chandelier tufa, and the start of the intriguingly different (and, admittedly, more my style) upper half. At this point, it's all about big moves between unlikely positioned enormous jugs, through slightly overhanging terrain, with a penultimate iron-cross sequence guarding the anchors. I missed a crucial kneebar in the initial steep section and fell off on the Onsight, and had a bit of trouble mounting the chandelier tufa at half-height, but Neil almost managed the pitch clean on Second, only botching one of the finishing moves to a jug hidden in an improbable location.

One of our pursuers (of the flying Ling Brothers), making the final moves of
Pitch 4.
It's the sort of pitch that would likely be sent Clean for both of us with a Second Shot (and we were both keen on another lap), but impossibly, we weren't the only climbers on Air Malta this day (actually, there was a bizarre number of climbers in the Gorge this weekend, contrasting my usual experience of being the only ones climbing there), and another shot would've produced an undesirable bottle-neck. And so, we continued on.

Neil on the rather Malevolent Pitch 5 (23), mere moments
away from being spanked black and blue.
Pitch 5 (gr23) was -to be honest- rather dirty, with a weird film of limestone-mud surrounding the immediate climbing line, which featured a strange mix of chimneying, off-widthing, fist-crack climbing, jug-hauling, and bouldery pocket/crimp climbing. It was also absolutely desperate at the grade, with both Neil and I falling off at the last bolt. Having said all of that, it was still fairly enjoyable in that it presented an intriguingly different style of climbing (which it then promptly used to kick our collective arses).

The final pitch to glory was an enjoyable Verdon-esque grey slab complete with sloping-pockets, sharp runnels, and high quality rock with two hard sections at gr22, and a great deal of easier climbing. In all reality, it was one of the better "exit pitches" I've climbed in Bungonia Gorge, and was an enjoyable way to conclude the day.

Topping out at about 2pm, we ended up accomplishing the entire journey car-to-car in about 6 hours.

Unfortunately, at this point, we encountered a group of imbeciles doing exactly the sort of ignorant, destructive bullshit that reminds me why it is that I have so little faith in humanity. After arriving at the lookout immediately before the carpark, we observed a large group of individuals of all ages (including children younger than 10, and at least one older gentleman in his 50s) laughing uproariously as an esky-sized block of limestone was lifted by 2 members of the group, and thrown over the guardrail, to fall more than 250m into the gorge below, raining destruction on everything in its path.

Now, I'm the first to admit that trundling (especially with good reason) can be a great deal of fun, but directly below the lookout is the inescapable slot-canyon section of the Red Track, which -a quick glance at the Registry at the Park Office later that day revealed- was host to dozens of individuals scheduled to pass through during the course of the day.

Neil got a clear view of what they were doing and confronted them immediately, only to be mocked, lied to, and dismissed by the perpetrators. It was one thing for the individuals who specifically dropped the rock to behave like dicks to us, but to see the women, and the old man, looking at the two of us with scorn for our interloping spoke volumes about the sort of characters that -in reality- define most of the Human Race. Rome is the mob, and the mob is dumb.

We made an effort to track down a ranger and point them in the direction of these individuals, but -inevitably- despite being a long weekend there was no one in residence. Typical.

With a rare (for us) early finish, we packed up our gear and made the long journey back to Sydney. In usual fashion the trip went quite quickly, as Neil and I took to arguing/discussing/debating controversial Big Issues with our usual unrestrained fervor. It's as if I never left!

During my flight back to Tassie, literally the next day, I encountered by old friend Ingvar Lidman at Sydney Airport, who was sharing the flight down to the Launceston, having spent almost half a year in Western Australia (and a full 30-days living in a cave in the Stirling Ranges, establishing numerous new routes, and of particular note a 3-pitch Mixed 28 called "Route 666".

It was good to have the old Tassie Team back together again.

Agony and Ecstasy


Inbetween seiging away at Obsidian Obsession and No Space in Time at Bare Rock, I teamed up with Garry Phillips for a bit of variety out at Freycinet. We had some mixed successes tackling the beautiful red granite walls of the Star Factory, and I finally got the chance to experience two of the routes I've been wanting to get on for a long time: Simply the Best (28) and Augmentium (Trad 29). Unsurprisingly, neither route failed to live up to its towering reputation, and were a symphony of rock ecstasy, and both felt eminently achievable with a bit of effort.

Augmentium (29) in all its glory. If you
aren't inspired by this, it's time to take
up Dressage for a hobby.
Tasmanian Kevin Jin, belayed by Garry
Phillips on Turbo Hammer (25).

If you've ever seen Ingvar climb... it
should come as no surprise that he
can, in fact, walk on water.
Tasmania has also been trying its best to show of its highly unpredictable weather, with record-breaking flooding trapping me at the tiny town of Mathinna (where I've been staying with Ingvar) for several days, with no reception, minimal power, and no escape! I can only imagine the suffering Ingvar had to endure: being trapped with me as I progressively went more insane within our wooden confines, enduring acute Cabin Fever and cradling my unsoiled Rock Shoes with a forlorn tear in my eye (and inevitable froth pouring from my mouth).

Yeah... I don't think we'll be driving out anytime soon.

Inbetween the explosive bursts of near unfathomable cataclysmic weather (and periodic mental breakdowns), I've been really psyched to try and add my own multipitch to the main face of Bare Rock. To leave my mark -as it were- on the cliff that has consumed almost 6 months of my life. There's a lot of vacant real estate on the rock here, but sections of it are incredibly chossy, and the process of piecing together a multipitch which runs the length of the 200m main face and isn't littered with rubbish pitches inbetween the classics (and without criss-crossing existing routes) is quite the challenge. The reality is that most (though not all) of the longer multipitches here are a mixed bag of amazing and frustrating.

I'd spied an unclimbed line on a broad, blank section of the right-hand side of Bare Rock, and spent almost 2 weeks (in total) piecing together a fully-bolted 8-pitch line (totaling about 185m), which took in much of the best rock to be found in Fingal. The climb is called Agony and Ecstasy in 8 Parts, due to the number of pitches, the varied nature of the climbing (which will make some pitches agony, and others ecstasy to repeat ascensionists), and in keeping with the ongoing rock/metal theme of most of the routes on Bare Rock. The song in question that I've taken the name from is linked below:

Gerry Narkowicz on the belay below Pitch 2 (24), about to blast up it on one
of his Send Attempts (and giving us the Mullet Salute as well). I
flashed both pitches as a giant 50m pitch moments later...
Pitch 1 (30m 16 - "The Easy Slab Pitch") is the same as Pitch 1 for Tomorrow's Dream (3-pitch 19), and is a pleasant, if unremarkable slab. At this point (Pitch 2, 25m 24 - "The Funky Roof-Turn Pitch") my climb diverges from Tomorrow's Dream, continuing straight up an awesome orange shield of rock, to an outrageous square-cut roof which is turned by pressing up against the featureless underside, and walking your feet up until they are just below the roof. At this point you reach around to some mingen crimps, get a ludicrously high foot, and rock over-and-around the rooflet. If you manage to get your left foot above the lip of the roof, only 10m of grade 20 slab guards the Send of this pitch.

I'd like to point out that Gerry Narkowicz bolted Pitch 2 (and it was always going to be his pitch on the route), but had -to this point- been unable to send it... He said I could "have it", provided that I could flash it as a giant 50m pitch belayed from the ground. I don't think he really expected me to do it... unfortunately for him, I managed to do exactly that. Thanks Captain Mullet!

Captain Mullet seconding Pitch 3 (22) clean on the big
Send Push up the climb.
Pitch 3 (12m 22 - "The Hard Slab Pitch") is -unfortunately- one of the less memorable pitches. It's a short, and rather hard thin slab, which is somewhat contrived, as you deliberately leave good holds (which deteriorate into bad rock above) to tackle the blankest and hardest section of the slab. It's not exactly "escapable", but it does feel strange to traverse off great holds and into much hardness (though I suppose that's the defining characteristic of sport climbing). Fortunately, the "generally quite good" climbing to this point turns the dial up to 11 from here on out.

Next up is the "The Tenuous Traverse Pitch" (45m 23), which is hard right off the belay, and tackles an awesome traverse line of bulletproof orange rock, whereby your feet are smearing on polished nothingness on the lip of an undercut roof, and you're pressed up against another square-cut roof above you, underclinging a tips seam and traversing desperately hard left. At the highest point of the traverse, you turn through the largest section of the roof (which, despite looking nails, is actually only about grade 22) and end up on a beautiful tiger-striped grade 18 slab, which you boldly climb for 20m (its rather runout) to the belay.

Gerry seconding Pitch 4 (23), having just turned the roof, and heading up
the glorious grade 18 slab. Surely that slab is a work of art, no?
When I'd first Top Rope Solo'd this pitch before bolting it, I'd thought it was about grade 25, but on the Send Push I ticked it first shot of the day, placing the draws, and feeling pretty solid the whole way... hence: 23. Regardless, it's a rad pitch, and signifies the point where the overall quality of the climbing steps up a notch.

At this point, things get hard(ish). Pitch 5 (15m 26 - "The Outrageous Roof Pitch") turns The Great Roof of Bare Rock (visible in the photo of Gerry flipping the Bird above) on the left hand side, and features powerful, funky slapping on slippery polished slopers through ridiculous steepness. The only way to make these frictionless holds work for you, is to get funky with your feet (and heels), and throw yourself at it fully.  The bizarre roof-traversing culminates in a sting-in-the-tail deadpoint across the void, with some intense bicycling through the air to gain a stemming stance, with easier moves left to the anchor. This was the pitch that had me really nervous before the Send, as it's pretty much my worst style of climbing (though I still enjoy it). Fortunately, I managed to fire-it-off 3rd lead attempt (I'd had 2 laps on Top Rope Solo previously), with Gerry belaying and cheering my on. As you can imagine, I was rather psyched!

It's almost like a postcard: "Greetings from Bare Rock!" Perhaps I should be selling this picture to
tourism Tasmania. (Me on Pitch 5 (26), with Ingvar Lidman on belay, on a repeat for the camera).

The cruxy deadpoint lunge across space at the end of
the pitch. Aaaaand...
Pitch 6 (15m 25) is the "Bouldery Black Streak Pitch", and commences innocuously enough, with some interesting moves up an orange slab to a stance... before throwing you into the thick of battle with technical, bouldery power-endurance climbing for the next 7m or so, as you layback and heel-hook up a slippery left-facing flake that borders the orange and the black.  Right as you're appropriately pumped, you enter the crux, which involves 1st-joint laybacking up an incipient seam, a big pounce to an "okay" hold, some tricky footwork, and a big move to a "good" hold. After that, it's grade 22 steep jugging in the black streak to the belay.

BICYCLE TO GLORY!!! (and a stemming stance).
 I originally gave this pitch 26 (and it took me 7 shots to tick it in proper alpine conditions -complete with high winds and spindrift blowing around), but on a subsequent repeat I did it too easily, and felt that I couldn't justify the harder grade. Hence the downgrade.


Pitch 7 (15m 24 - "The Technical Stemming Pitch") makes a few moves left to join Enchanted to a Stone (45m 24) just in time for it's main crux, which is an impressively overhanging series of stepped roofs that are negotiated with a sequence of extreme complex stemming. The pitch ends with an excitingly dynamic set of moves out right to gain an arete feature, before a juggy finale guides the way to the anchors.

When I first attempted this pitch, Enchanted to a Stone was unrepeated despite a number of very strong climbers having a crack at it. Though originally graded 24, some attempted repeats had proposed anywhere from 26 to 28! My first attempt at it was utterly shutdown at the main crux moves (right at the end of the pitch) and for an hour I tried every extreme stemming stance that I could to negotiate the last hurdle guarding the Send of Agony and Ecstasy in 8 Parts. Finally, with some encouragement from Ingvar, I managed to come up with a repeatable sequence, and Sent the pitch packing on my 2nd shot. I also used the experience of solving the final crux on Enchanted to a Stone to do the first clean repeat of that entire route as well, which I felt really is grade 24 for the true redpoint (though the style, and initial Onsight confusion will baffle almost everyone).

Entering the final crux of Pitch 7 (24), with a Michael Bay-style Lens
Flair to add to the dramatic feel of the moment.
The final pitch (Pitch 8 - 25m 14 - "The Junky Exit Pitch") is -as the name probably suggests- nothing special by Bare Rock standards. It simply follows the best rock to the top of the cliff, and -compared to Blueys access/exit pitches- still reasonably enjoyable, despite almost being inconsequential after all of the pitches that came before it. I ended up sending it in the almost dark, with a pack and several ropes (I was collecting the fixed ropes I had on the upper pitches on the way out) on my back. Mega Classique!
And with that, it was done. My truly major contribution to Bare Rock, my first Long-ish multipitch climb featuring some of the best pitches of climbing I've ever established, was a fully-fledged route: Agony and Ecstasy in 8 Parts (180m 26 - 16, 24, 22, 23, 26, 25, 24, 14) - 3 Stars!

A big thanks to Gerry Narkowicz, Ingvar Lidman, Daniel Hazel and Jason McCarthy for helping me realise this vision and get it done!

I've made a short video showing some of the exciting climbing on the upper pitches. This video was made after the First Ascent, and is -to be honest- a bit half-arsed in the camera positioning (hence you will see the Orange Helmet I attach my fixed camera to for much of it). Regardless, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it inspires you to get on this masterpiece of Rock Poetry (If I DO say so myself!).

The Music is (predictably) the 1st movement of "Achilles: Agony and Ecstasy in 8 Parts" by Manowar.

Real Agony and True Ecstasy

Well, I suppose that it can't all be great anecdotes and victory celebrations, so I'll conclude today with a real slice of Agony, and a Truly soaring piece of Ecstasy that I've experienced down here during my continuing sojourn...

Federation Peak in all its glory!
Photo Source: Dave Noble ( www.david-noble.net )
I've always wanted to climb Federation Peak, as it's one of the most amazingly monolithic peaks in Australia, features the longest continually upwards climb we have here (over 600m of climbing via Blade Ridge into North-West Face Direct), and harbours a notoriously difficult approach (described as "Australia's Toughest Bushwalk") to even get to the peak. Unfortunately, the logistics of a climb on Federation Peak has always precluded the chance to make the rarely repeated climb.

This trip, however, I decided that I'd at least do the bushwalking approach to the summit before snow made the trek impossible, so that I could see if it's as hard as I've heard, and learn the path for a prospective climbing trip in the future. As I was living with Ingvar at the time, he was psyched to hike Federation Peak again (he did the entire return trip in one 23 hour push when I was living with him last year!), and so it was that the two of us set off for a few days of "pleasant hiking in the Tasmanian Wilderness", beginning our journey in at 0500hrs on Wednesday 25th May.

My legs 3 hours into the journey on the first day. It only got worse from here.
I would describe the "trail" from Farmhouse Creek (and I use the world "trail" extremely loosely) as possibly the most unpleasant activity I've endured while wearing boots... and that includes running the Army Obstacle Course at Moorebank in a full bio-suit (complete with Respirator) and being repeatedly exposed to military-grade CS gas for "training". A large portion of the trail is spent trudging through muddy bogs, at times knee-deep; other sections are creek-bashing in icy water; and the remaining section involves negotiating literally thousands of tree-obstacles of varying degrees of complexity... and all of this for 19 bloody kilometres (either way). The reality, is that the "trail" only exists because it follows water-runs for its entire length, be they slogging through a creek, a muddy bog, or up (and down) a water-run through the hills. Essentially, its the worst part of Canyoning, without the redeeming aspects (or any sort of view for about 18kms of the journey), and without wearing a wetsuit to justify the amphibiousness of the activity.

Post-Federation Peak Equipment drying in the... wait for it...
Bare Rock Shipping Container! (Surprised?)
The goal was to do it in 2 days, so Ingvar -the Speed Demon Incarnate- set a consistent pace, and -despite the discomfort- we were well on track to reach the summit by 1700hrs on the first day... a mere 12 hours after we set off. I use the words "on track to..." because over the course of the walk, I managed to pick up a repetitive strain injury which damaged the miniscus on the side of my left knee. I've experienced a lesser form of this injury before -usually while trudging for multiple days through deep snow, with plastic mountaineering boots and crampons on-, but never in such a short span of time, nor to such a severe extent. By the time we were 2 hours from the summit, the pain was so severe that I was hardly moving (and was even crawling at times rather than risk raising my left leg at all), and at a snails pace I managed to make it to within 1.5hrs of the summit before -collectively- making the judgement call that it was time to turn around.

I don't deal with failure well, and I am -though I'm not proud to admit it- the sort of person who does tend to push on to the summit beyond any margin of safety due to an unhealthy dose of summit fever, and I sure as hell didn't turn around easily (or without a great deal of anguish and regret), but the facts were this: I had almost 19kms of hostile terrain to negotiate back to our car, and almost every step for those 19kms was exactly the sort of complex high-stepping movement that would aggravate my injury -which by this point, was so severe that I was no longer able to bite back shouts of pain whenever I "tweaked it".

What followed was 24hrs of agony, as I limped, crawled, whimpered, shouted, and dragged myself back through the wall-of-tree log obstacles, the knee-deep bogs, the rocky slopes and the icy creeks. I'd brought almost no painkillers or anti-inflammatories, so what I had were used sparingly for the most difficult sections. Ingvar was more than kind enough to carry both our packs on the most complex parts (fortunately mine only weighed about 10kgs, and his was about 6kgs) and was infinitely patient with my slow, tortured progress.

We bivvied in the rain at about 2200hrs on the first night, having taken almost 5 hours to descend Moss Ridge back to the main creek section. Due to my injury I did a half-arsed job of setting up my tarp, and ended up spending the night saturated after it collapsed in the storm, and I was too tired to be bothered re-establishing it.

I'm proud to admit that I still managed to keep up a reasonable pace (only slowing down on the worst of the log-obstacles), though it was absolute agony the whole way. Consequently, we made it back to the car at about 1700hrs on Thursday, and promptly drove to a Bar for a good pub feed (mmm... Beer Battered Barramundi!) and some Coopers Stout to ease the sorrows. I was in serious pain, I knew that the injury wasn't something that would go away quickly, I couldn't high-step and had almost no motor-control over my left-leg below the knee, and I was quite fearful that it might be the end to any ambitious climbing goals in the near future.

The 1st Crux on No Space in Time (25m Mixed 28) in the gear-protected
The anguish seemed worse, as I knew I was really close to ticking No Space in Time (25m Mixed 28) at Bare Rock, a route of Ingvar's which had captivated me for some time, and felt like a route designed to appeal to my climbing strengths. It consists of a 25/26 steep technical crack (mostly protected by trad gear), followed by 2 back-to-back grade 25 sequences, and finishes in a tricky and complex grade 23 finale (all of this with no real "good" holds to chill out on), and climbs beautiful cream-and-black striped dolarite the whole way.

I took almost a week off climbing, but used the opportunity to eat extremely sparingly (just what I needed to offset any energy expenditure) to lose what little weight I could afford to shed, and train like a madman (mostly on my hangboard), focusing in particular on the sort of strengths necessary for sticking the final crux (which had been spitting me off on almost all of my attempts to this point). Eventually, feeling up to some walking, I hiked to the top of Bare Rock, rapped in and had a session on Top Rope Solo, avoiding the knee-tweaking steep crack start (for the most part) and instead spending almost the entire day doing the moves of the final crux again, and again, and again. At this point in time it was heartbreaking to see how far I'd fallen from any possibility of sending the route, and I was feeling dejected and devastated when Ingvar talked me into heading back up to The Boneyard the following day, right on sundown (in the 1 hour per day where conditions are perfect), and giving No Space in Time a couple of red-point shots.

Another perspective on the initial crack section, with Jason on belay.
Doing a warmup before leaving the Shipping Container, I launched up the climb at exactly 1600hrs, and managed to -impossibly- link through the final crux, only to fall off part-way through the grade 23 final section. Psyche was high among Ingvar and Mark (who had joined us for the afternoon session on the Ledge), but I wasn't nearly so optimistic. Nevertheless, right on the edge of dark, I had another crack at it and suddenly found myself on the final moves of the grade 23 section, climbing it poorly (since I couldn't see the crucial tic-tac footers in the dark), but completely in control. And thus No Space in Time went down for a happy ending to this period of frustration.

I've always said that all of my major climbing injuries have had silver linings to them: when I broke my heel I learned the value of footwork (as I continued climbing one-footed, and every foot placement had to be perffect to make the moves possible), the ruptured pulleys in my fingers meant I had to learn how to climb open-handed (because I couldn't crimp), the torn hamstring led to greater flexibility and a ludicrous high-step capacity (as working on flexibility was a large part of the recovery)... And despite it not being immediately apparent here, I think that the knee injury had a silver lining as well: it forced me to actually have rest days, and allowed me to perform targeted training on the moves that were holding me back from the tick.

And besides, the whole story makes a good anecdote, right? (Although my knee is feeling rather sorry for itself at the moment <sad face> ).

Until next time, friends, be safe and enjoy your gainful employment and respectable prospects for the future (you know, like having money, a house, family, cars, food, electricity, four intact limbs, non-septic jam scars, etc).

Busting a gut in the initial steep crack section.
The 2nd crux: a weird right-heel rock-over through steepness.

The 3rd (and final!) crux: a complex sequence of thin holds and micro-footers.

The technical (but comparatively easy) opening moves to the grade 23 final section.